Monday, February 22, 2010

The Diners Club

Look through a cab's windshield long enough, and you're bound to notice change. As the years and miles pass like an ever diminishing scene from the rear-view, it's not always clear from where the sense of change emanates: the observer or observed.

Though among the observed, as Boston inches its way toward becoming a more generic US city, are a dwindling number of old money families making their presence felt in our streets (while posers remain common enough).

I used to drive for the original Town Taxi, known for its low rates to drivers and odometers in excess of 300,000 miles - at a time when inspections were even more lax than today. We were by no means the largest of Boston's fleets, but we did have a lock on the old brahmin accounts whose families still largely resided on Beacon Hill.

It became a regular ritual for me to ferret through the hill's warren of streets collecting my fares one at a time for what I affectionately came to think of as 'the diners club'. While an occasional husband or visiting nephew might be snared into going along, it was most often a night out for the older ladies.

There was protocol to be followed. After retrieving the initial fare, I would be given the name and address for the next: "Mrs._______ at ______", and so on. 'Drivuh' was to open doors and assist with the disentanglement of garments stuck on to any disintegrating shards of door panel. Windows were to be kept up, excepting my own, 'just a little', as the preservation of coiffure was paramount. This in turn led to the cab's cabin filling with the exhaust of a barely attached muffler and the blue smoke of burnt oil wafting in from the rusted out holes on the floor. As we shocklessly bounced from one address to another, the first one in would often look longingly at her closed window, but never succumb to the temptation of actually opening it.

Once everyone was in, the conversation would become hushed and begun in earnest. I would often see a bejewelled hand rise from the backseat to prop up a sagging felt liner from the ceiling in an effort to retain eye contact with fellow conversants. The scandals discussed would range from a silver service a friend had used earlier that week, to who was 'seeing' who.

Any sudden shudder from the motor, stallout, or backfire would animate the dowager expressions into those of anticipatory school girls, wondering whether, near as it was, they'd arrive at their destination in the same vehicle their trip had begun.
The combined assets of these passengers could be measured in the hundreds of millions, while the menus they'd soon be viewing would include dinners and wines with values in excess of the value of the car in which they were driven. It was all of a piece for their night out -- they loved it.

They were never really a lucrative part of my nights, with the time consumed entering and exiting, the nearness of destinations, and their precision at tipping EXACTLY 15%, but they were among the most colorful and uncomplaining and always left me with a smile.

Sometime in the future I'll try to describe the flip side of this old monied coin- that strange cul-de-sac in the Boston bred gene pool called a Somerset.


  1. you must have had an education in writing. you're fantastic at telling stories.
    on behalf of all cabdrivers in New York....
    A brisk military salute to all Boston hacks.

  2. I like you. I wish you'd write more.